The Perplexity of the Prophets
September 30th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE PERPLEXITY OF THE PROPHETS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:7-8
9-30-73 8:15 a.m.
We are sharing the hour on the radio with those who love and pray for our First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor preaching the sermon entitled The Perplexity of the Prophets, or, The Witnesses to the Gospel. It is an exposition of the last verses of the first chapter of 1 Peter. The apostle writes in the seventh verse:
That we might be found unto the praise and honor and glory at the parousia, the appearance, the personal coming of Jesus Christ:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
[1 Peter 1:7-8]
And that was the sermon last Sunday morning. Now we pick it up at verse 9: "Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" [1 Peter 1:9]. Then he speaks of that salvation:
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when It testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister these things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
[1 Peter 1:10-12]
It is a rather long and complicated sentence, but it says some things that are so divinely inspired and everlastingly true; so we shall take it a section at a time, and follow what Simon Peter by the Holy Ghost is now writing unto us.
First, he speaks of the prophets:
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when that Holy Spirit in them testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
[1 Peter 1:10-11]
It is the same message. It is the same salvation. Whether the prophet is looking at it and searching diligently into the plan of God for us; whether he is looking at it in a foreview and by the Holy Spirit that is in him is describing the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow after; whether the prophet is looking at it in a foreview, or whether the apostle is describing it in an afterview, it is the same message. It is the same gospel, and it is the same salvation. Whether it is being described by Isaiah, who lived seven hundred fifty years before the cross, or whether it is being preached by the apostle Paul, who lived thirty years after the cross, it is the same message. Whether it is Daniel who is looking at the apocalyptic visions of God, or whether it is the sainted John who is describing in visions the consummation of the age, it is the same message. The Book is one, whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament. It is inspired by the same Spirit, and it concerns the same subject [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. The messenger may change, but the message is always alike.
For example, the gospel is always presented as one of grace, as a gift of God. Isaiah will write of it like this:
Ho, Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; . . .yea, come buy without money, and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken unto Me. . .incline your ear. . . and your soul shall live.
Isn’t that a gospel? It is a gospel of grace; it is a gospel of the free mercy of God, "without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1]. Now listen to it as the apostle Paul will preach the same thing: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should say, ‘I did it’" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It is bestowed upon us of the Lord. Whether it is preached by a prophet or whether it is proclaimed by an apostle, it is the same gospel.
Or, take it again. The Bible presents our message of salvation as one of faith. Moses will write it like this: "Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness" [Genesis 15:6]. The apostle Paul will write it like this: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" [Romans 4:5]. Whether it is the prophet in foreview or the apostolic afterview, it is always the same.
Or, take again, Isaiah will write how we are saved by looking: "Look and live," by believing. Now listen to Isaiah as he will say, chapter 45, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none other" [Isaiah 45:22]. Doesn’t that sound like a gospel? "Look unto Me; be ye saved." Now, the Lord Jesus, as the apostle John will write it, will say it like this: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; and whosoever looks to Him, believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:14-15]. It is the same message whether the prophet is prophesying or the apostle is describing. It is the same message of grace and faith, "Look and live."
I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
It is only that you "look and live."
Look and live, my brother, live!
Look to Jesus Christ, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you "look and live."
["Look and Live"; William A. Ogden]
Whether the old or whether the new, the message has never changed. There is only one salvation, and God saves us all alike; whether in the Old Covenant or in the New, whether then or whether now.
You know, it was by inspiration, I think, that the early Christians referred to the four stories of the life of Christ as "the Four Gospels." That is, this is the good news, the euaggelion, the marvelous announcement. Whether it was a message foretold by the prophets and was heard from their lips, or whether it was the kerusson, the kerygma, proclaimed by the apostles themselves, it was a gospel; it was the great plan of hope and salvation through the ages, unchanged in the heart of God from the foundation of the world [1 Peter 1:18-20]. The Lord Jesus Christ in His life, as the four evangelists told the story, is the gospel. If Jesus Christ is delivering the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], it is a gospel of kingdom citizenship. If the blessed Lord Jesus is performing miracles [Matthew 11:4-5], it is a gospel of hope and faith before the awesome mysteries of pain and disease and death. The tears of Jesus [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8] is a gospel of the heavenly Father’s sympathy and compassion with us who live in this weary world. The love of Jesus for His apostles [John 13:34, 15:9, 12] is a gospel of God in sympathy and understanding and forgiveness of human limitation and error. The cross of Christ is a gospel: "God shall see the sufferings of His soul, the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" [Isaiah 53:11]. The resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-10] is a gospel; it foretells the triumph and the glory by which God Himself shall raise us from the dead [Romans 8:11; 1 Peter 1:12]. The whole message is heavenly inspired [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; it is one of good news. And it is the subject matter of the entire revelation of the Word of God, whether in the beginning or the consummation at the end.
"He died for our sins according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3], as the prophets foretold [Isaiah 53:5-12]. "He was raised the third day from the dead according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:4], as the prophets foretold [Luke 24:25-27]. "They looked and testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glory that should follow [1 Peter 1:11],And He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" [Hebrews 1:3]; our humanity has been exalted to the very throne of deity itself. And all authority and government and administration are committed unto Him [Matthew 28:18], though now for a while we see it not; His power is unspent, it is augmented immeasurably. Someday, according to the prophets [Isaiah 45:23] and according to the apostles and according to the decree of heaven itself, the whole creation will bow down in fealty and obeisance before Him who is King and Lord of all [Romans 14:11].
Now the apostle says that the prophets searched diligently and inquired meticulously into what they were saying [1 Peter 1:10-11]. And they had trouble with it; it was to them inexplicable. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? When I turn over to the second letter of the apostle, the last verse of the first chapter says, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man" [2 Peter 1:21]. What the prophet was saying was not something that he invented. It was not human speculation. It was not judgments such as the finest statesman in our governmental offices would say concerning the future, the state department would adjudge all of the problems that face the world and say, make a prophecy about the Middle East or about the Far East. "The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man" – it was not something that he speculated about, it was not a knowledgeable judgment – "but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" [2 Peter 1:21]. So the apostle Peter in this text that I am expounding says that the prophets, when they spake by the Spirit that was in them of the sufferings and the glory of Christ, "they inquired and searched diligently into it" [1 Peter 1:10]. It was difficult for the prophet to understand what it was that he was prophesying.
May I illustrate that? Daniel says, "I heard, but I understood not" [Daniel 12:8]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Here is this seer of God writing down the prophecy as the Holy Spirit – he calls it "the Spirit of Christ which was in him" [1 Peter 1:11] – as the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, inspired the prophet Daniel to write down the vision, and he would hear the angel speak and he would write it down, and we have it in the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 12:4]. But Daniel says, "I heard the angel speak, I wrote it down, but I didn’t understand it [Daniel 12:8]. I can’t understand it. The convergence of time with eternity, of travail with triumph, of life out of death, of glory out of sufferings," Daniel says, "I hear it and I write it down, but I don’t understand it."
All right, let’s take again, the great inexplicable to the prophets. The sufferings of Christ and the glory, the prophet would speak of both of them in the same breath. Moved by the Spirit of God he would describe the exaltation of the Lord and then in the next sentence begin describing His sufferings and His agony. Look at it. Isaiah will say:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government of the whole universe shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end, to establish it forever upon the throne of His father David
And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . . and the lion carnivorous, ferocious, shall eat straw like an
ox. . .They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s world: for the earth shall be filled with the love and the knowledge and the glory of God, as waters cover the sea.
Isn’t that a marvelous thing? Then in the next breath, listen to him as he says,
Who hath believed our report? Whose ears can accept what I am about to say now? Who could believe our report, what God hath inspired me to say? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. . .Yet He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.
Now how could the prophet reconcile that? "And His name shall be called Wonderful, the Mighty God [Isaiah 9:6],He is despised and rejected; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:3]. He couldn’t. He didn’t.
That was why, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist, who was the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist sent to the Lord and said,
Lord, I cannot understand. Are You the Coming One, the One who is to be the glory of the world, or is there another? Are there two Christs? One who is to be humble and gentle and suffering, carrying our diseases and our sorrows; and then is there another one who is to be the Lord God of the world?
Look how the apostle Peter says this: "The prophets prophesied this under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and they searched diligently, inquiring what it was, and they could not understand" [1 Peter 1:10-11]. But the apostle Peter says, that what they did, "They ministered unto us these things which are now reported unto you by us who preach the gospel" [1 Peter 1:12]. What he means by that is this: the prophets could not understand, but what they said God was using them to minister unto us who now understand and read the fullness of the revelation; that He was to come the first time to bear our sins, and the second time apart from sin to bring us our full salvation [Hebrews 9:28]. The prophet never saw it; but what he did was, Simon Peter says, that the prophet ministered unto us in that we can see now the truth and the verity of the gospel message of Christ because it is verified by these prophets who described it seven hundred fifty years, nine hundred years, sometimes a thousand five hundred years before. And we are led to believe that this is the truth of God because it was prophesied by these holy men, who by the Holy Spirit, who described our blessed Lord in His atonement for our sins [Isaiah 53:1-12], and in His resurrection from the dead [Psalm 16:10], and in His coming back to the earth to be King of the universe [Psalm 2:6-9]; all of it was prophesied by these holy men of God hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before it came to pass. Isn’t that a glorious thing?
Now, I have but a moment left, and that’s one fourth of the sermon I’ve prepared. Let me rapidly now speak of the remainder, and listen with your heart. When the pastor prepares the message, oh, I pray God will give us listening hearts and understanding minds.
His second witness to the gospel is the apostle. "We who do minister these things, and have preached the gospel unto you" [1 Peter 1:12]; the apostle lifts up his voice, and with that of the prophets, he describes the sufferings and the glory of Christ [Isaiah 53:5-12; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. Ah, there is no page in human literature, nor is there any epoch in human story comparable to the days of the writing of the New Testament and of the worldwide kerygma, proclamation of the gospel message of Christ by the apostles. There they are, dressed in robes of poverty, no distinctions except those of shame and suffering, witnessing in a warrior nation; but in the power of the Holy Ghost, in quiet homes evangelizing, in the towns and the cities and finally in the capital and in Caesar’s household, and ultimately to the Scythian and to the barbarian, the Parthian, the Macedonian, the Englishman. Isn’t that incomparable?
The power of the grace of God bestowed upon the apostles in their witness, where did it come from? From the third great Witnesser, "Who preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven" [1 Peter 1:12]. It is the Holy Ghost that gives fullness and power to the proclamation of the gospel story of Christ. And without His presence, it is sound and cymbal. It is the Holy Spirit that empowered the blessed life of the Lord. It was the Holy Spirit that gave the prophet foreview to see it. It was by the Holy Spirit that the apostles proclaimed the message. And it is the Holy Spirit that witnesses by us today, if there is power in the gospel message that is delivered. There is no such thing as the ableness of God to convert men except as the messenger is filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
You know, this may be a drastic observation for me to make, but to me it is so true. When I read the history of the Christian message, I will follow, let’s say as an example, the pioneer preacher in America, who came across the Alleghenies, and spread through the wilderness of Kentucky and Tennessee, and the prairies of Ohio and Indiana and Illinois, and then to the great heartland of the Midwest, these great broad prairies, and out to the plains, in a little town where I was converted, and finally to the waters of the Pacific Ocean. What kind of men were they? They are intimately, meticulously described in these books of history and gospel story. They were uneducated men. Their libraries consisted of a Bible and a hymn book. They preached the gospel wherever the pioneers gathered: under arbors, under trees, in log cabins. And their message was coarsely expressed. Their vocabularies were circumscribed and limited. And sometimes the message they preached was commingled with error. But God used them, the Holy Spirit endowed them, and the Christian churches and the Christian institutions that you see today are the fruit of their dedicated hands. There’s not a one of those men that would be acceptable in any cultured pulpit in America today. But they won the frontier, and they won the civilized life and governmental life of America to God. They made of this a Christian nation.
I want to compare them with the modern theologian who is brilliant and academic beyond expression, but he snores theology while the people nod sound asleep. He empties the churches of God. I listened to Billy Graham one time, speaking to the leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention, when I was presiding over it, president; and he said to the leadership of our convention, "I cannot understand how a people would wish, choose to embrace a theology that has emptied all of the churches of Europe, and is beginning to empty our churches today." Why? Cold intellectual speculation as against the power of the Holy Spirit of God. If we have no Christ, we have no gospel. And if we have no Holy Spirit, we have no power.
Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.
["Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove"; Isaac Watts]
Lord, baptize us with the Spirit of God when the choir sings, or when the deacons "deak," or when the Sunday school teachers teach, or when the great program of evangelism is presented to the church, or when the pastor preaches, Lord baptize it with the Holy Ghost and fire from heaven.
Would you listen just one moment more, then we’ll be through? Look how he closes his passage. When he describes all of that, what the prophets have done and the apostles have done, and when the message is delivered, he says, "Which things the angels desire to look into" [1 Peter 1:12]. Isn’t that a remarkable observation? "Which things the angels desire to look into." Look: if I could say, "Come, come, there is a door into heaven, let’s look in the door," all of us would gather around it, and when the door was opened, ah, the wonderment and the amazement of the things we would see looking through the door into heaven. Did you know, the apostle Peter says it is actually turned around? The window of heaven is open, and it is crowded with the faces of angels, and they look down in amazement and wonderment at what Christ is doing in the earth. It is an astonishment to them – "Which things the angels desire to look into" [1 Peter 1:12] – the whole gospel message is full of amazement to the angels.
You remember two of them spread their wings, and look full in steady gaze upon the blood of propitiation, the cherubim above the mercy seat, the propitiatory, the hilastērion [Exodus 25:17-20], remember that? The angels looking down upon it, and the angels looking down upon the sacrifice of Christ in amazement, and the angels looking down upon us today, seeing how the message of Christ is revealed – "pastor, aren’t you speculating?" No. No. No. I’m just declaring what God has revealed in His Word. Listen: didn’t the Lord Himself say, "Verily, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:10]. Isn’t that in the Book? They look down upon us from the windows of heaven. And they look in startled amazement at what they see in the blessed grace and mercy of God, wooing us to Christ, saving us in His love and mercy, ministering to us in His compassionate love and sympathy.
Why, it seems to me a man’s heart would be made out of iron who did not respond to a message like that. And it is for us, it is for you. There is forgiveness, and mercy, and compassion, and understanding, and forgiveness, and salvation in the gospel of Christ [Ephesians 2:5-8]. And it is ours for the taking, for the having, for the receiving. Would you do it now, would you? In the balcony round, the throng of you there, coming today, accepting the Lord’s love and grace, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." On this lower floor, out of the press of people around you, into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, and here I am." Make the decision now in your heart. A family you; a couple you; or just you; by confession of faith, by letter, by however God would press the appeal to your heart, come. Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.